Grenfell Tower fire
Grenfell Tower fire: Firms involved in refurbishment ‘deny responsibility’
The Grenfell Tower fire inquiry has heard that none of the firms involved in the 2016 refurbishment of the building have accepted any responsibility for the fire which killed 72 people in June 2017.
The inquiry’s Chief Lawyer, Richard Millett QC, said each claimed what happened was “someone else’s fault”.
This is despite widespread expert opinion that the work failed to meet building regulations.
The news comes at the start of the second phase of the inquiry, which started in January 2020. This part of the investigation will look into how the building was allowed to be covered in flammable cladding.
The tower, built in 1974, was extensively refurbished between 2012 and 2016.
Each of the firms involved in the inquiry has previously asked for a guarantee from Attorney General Geoffrey Cox that they will be protected when they give evidence and that anything they say in the hearings will not be used for any prosecution.
Grenfell Tower Inquiry Phase 1 report
London Fire Brigade was described as ‘slow’ and ‘wasteful’ in the report, by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS). It went on to say that London Fire Brigade (LFB) ‘needs to make improvements’.
It found that LFB:
- ‘Requires improvement’ at effectively keeping people safe and secure from fire and other risks;
- ’Requires improvement’ at how efficiently it manages its resources; and
- ’Requires improvement’ at looking after its people.
The report said that firefighters regularly missed training and attended too many false alarms.
HM Inspector of Fire and Rescue Services Matt Parr called the findings ‘disappointing’ and said there are ‘too many’ areas where LFB needs to improve: “Criticism should be balanced, however, by the things the Brigade does well: it is good at understanding the risk of fire and other emergencies and preventing fires and other risks. It also responds well with other emergency services to national risks. But it should improve the way it protects the public both through fire regulation, and how it responds to fires and other emergencies.
“It is well-resourced and exceeds its own standards on response times. But its operational policies don’t reflect national operational guidance, even for risk-critical areas such as incident command. And its incident commanders and emergency drivers are not as well trained by the Brigade as they should be. This is something that needs to be urgently addressed.
“We have concluded there is a long way to go before London Fire Brigade is as efficient as it could be.”
Read the full HMICFRS report here.
Government response to Grenfell Tower Inquiry’s Phase 1 report
In January 2020, the Government published a document in response the Grenfell Tower Inquiry’s Phase 1 report, which was published on 30 October 2019.
The response sets out the actions taken by the Government, in addressing the recommendations made to it and to the Emergency Services, including the London Fire Brigade. In 2019, The Grenfell Tower Inquiry Phase 1 report, heavily criticised the response of The London Fire Brigade (LFB) citing ‘serious shortcomings’ and ‘systemic failures’.
The response sets out the actions taken by the Government, in addressing the recommendations made to it and to the Emergency Services, including the London Fire Brigade. The 12-page document, ‘Grenfell Tower Inquiry Phase 1 report: government response’, covers the following points:
- Use of combustible materials;
- Recommendations where changes are required by law;
- ‘Stay put’ and evacuation;
- Fire doors;
- Testing and certification;
- Building regulations;
- Evacuation alert systems and internal signage;
- Building Safety Regulator.
The introduction to the paper confirms that the Government will ‘continue to ensure that we actively engage with those who have been personally affected by the tragedy and listen to their views on the changes made to building regulations and fire safety.’
It goes on to acknowledge noted that LFB has accepted in full the recommendations directed to it, as well as those for the Fire and Rescue Services more broadly. ‘The Home Office welcomes the steps LFB inform us they have already taken to address the Inquiry’s recommendations. These include revisions to policy guidance and advice to ensure personnel are better informed of the risks of fire taking hold in external walls, and the roll out of Fire Survival Guidance refresher training. The Home Office also supports LFB making smoke hoods available as part of breathing apparatus sets on all their fire appliances,’ it says.
Phase 2 of the Inquiry will investigate the wider context – including the nature and application of building regulations, the way in which local and central government responded to the fire, and the handling of concerns raised by tenants over many years.
Read the full Grenfell Tower Inquiry Phase 1 report: government response, here.
On 20 January 2020, Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick, said that the government would begin naming the owners of high-rise buildings who’ve been slow to remove dangerous cladding. Figures show that work has yet to start on 157 residential buildings with the same type of cladding identified as a factor in the Grenfell Tower fire. Mr Jenrick told MPs: “Unless swift progress is seen in the coming weeks, I will publicly name building owners where action to remediate unsafe ACM cladding has not started. There can be no more excuses for delay, I’m demanding immediate action.”
Grenfell Tower fire
72 people were killed by the fire that engulfed the Grenfell Tower block in North Kensington, West London on Wednesday, 14 June 2017.
The 24-storey tower block burned throughout the day, taking firefighters over 24 hours to get it under control, leading to confusion and uncertainty that lasted for days.
In the 1,000-page document, which will be officially published today, enquiry Chairman Sir Martin Moore-Bick states that fewer people would have died, if the LFB had taken certain actions earlier.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that the report “gives the victims the truth,” and that the world “is finally hearing the truth about what happened.”
Issues highlighted in the report include:
- A lack of training in how to ‘recognise the need for an evacuation or how to organise one’;
- Incident commanders ‘of relatively junior rank” being unable to change strategy;
- Control room officers lacking training on when to advise callers to evacuate;
- An assumption that crews would reach callers, resulting in ‘assurances which were not well founded’;
- Communication between the control room and those on the ground being ‘improvised, uncertain and prone to error’;
- A lack of an organised way to share information within the control room, meaning officers had ‘no overall picture of the speed or pattern of fire spread’;
Click here to read the The Grenfell Tower Inquiry Phase 1 report in full.
Sir Martin Moore-Bick issued the following statement, on publishing the report.
In response, the LFB said it would “carefully and fully consider all of Sir Martin Moore-Bick’s Phase 1 report and take every action we can to improve public safety,” but that it was “disappointed” by some of the criticism of individuals. It also added disappointment that “measures we have been calling for are not in the recommendations, including the wider use of sprinklers in both new and existing buildings”.
On the night of the fire, the London Fire Brigade received an unprecedented number of 999 calls, but the report calls their operation beset by “shortcomings in practice, policy and training”. It said that call handlers were not always obtaining necessary information from the calls to ascertain where in the building the call originated from. It also says that some handlers were not made aware of what to tell residents in terms of when to evacuate.
Sir Martin says that operators were “not aware of the danger of assuming that crews would always reach callers”, stating a lack of lessons learnt from the 2009 fire at Lakanal House.
On 16 September 2019, it was revealed that, as part of the investigation into the fire, The LFB had been interviewed under caution by police. The interviews were conducted voluntarily, “as a body, rather than an individual” in relation to the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, the fire service said.
London Fire Commissioner Dany Cotton said that the fire service recognised the need for answers by survivors and the bereaved. She said that hundreds of LFB staff and volunteers had already provided interview voluntarily and that they would continue to assist the investigation.
“We must all understand what happened and why to prevent communities and emergency services from ever being placed in such impossible conditions ever again,” she added.
Ms Cotton herself was not exempt from criticism, regarding her evidence to the public inquiry in September 2018. She told the hearing that she wouldn’t change a thing about the LFB’s response to the fire. The report said she showed “remarkable insensitivity” and a lack of willing to learn lessons from Grenfell.
With news that hundreds of buildings still have ‘unsafe’ cladding, a number of fire safety experts were asked, ‘Grenfell Tower: Have lessons been learned two years on?‘ They discussed whether, two years on from the worst residential fire in living memory, there has been an adequate cultural shift – in government, the construction industry and among responsible persons – and whether this will persist.
Andy Roe to replace Dany Cotton as head of London Fire Brigade
In December 2019 Ms Cotton stepped down from the role, four months ahead of her planned retirement date. Following the public inquiry into Grenfell, she faced several calls to resign, with Grenfell United saying that a change at the top would ‘keep Londoners safe’.
Ms Cotton, who said said Grenfell Tower was “without doubt the worst fire” the London Fire Brigade has ever faced, has worked on “some of the most painful incidents to have occurred in LFB’s history” during her 32 years with the service, including the Clapham Junction rail crash in 1988 and the fire which gutted the iconic Cutty Sark in 2007.
On 12 December 2019, The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, appointed Andy Roe as London’s new Fire Commissioner. The appointment follows ‘a comprehensive international recruitment process’, according to a statement from the Mayor’s office. Mr Khan praised Ms Cotton’s career, but said her decision to leave was ‘the right one’.
A Former British Army officer, Andy brings a wealth of experience dealing with major incidents and having operational command from his time the army, as well as during his career with the LFB, where he has worked since 2002, progressing through the ranks as a firefighter – initially at Clerkenwell and West Hampstead.
Sadiq Khan, said: “Keeping Londoners safe is my number-one priority and I’m determined to do everything I can to ensure we have a fire and rescue service that is the best in the world. Andy Roe is a hugely experienced firefighter and I’m really pleased to have appointed him as London’s Fire Commissioner.”
Andy Roe, said: “It is an enormous privilege to be offered this opportunity to lead London Fire Brigade into a new decade.
“We have some real challenges ahead, but I’ll be working tirelessly with the Brigade, the Mayor and London’s communities to ensure we deliver on the recommendations of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry report. I’m looking forward to leading the Brigade through a period of transformation and delivering a workforce that truly reflects the diverse city we serve.”
British Safety Council response to the fire
Commenting on the findings of Phase 1 of the inquiry, Mike Robinson, Chief Executive of the British Safety Council, said: “This is a lengthy and detailed report and the industry will rightly take time to digest its details. However, it is clear there were serious shortcomings in the procedures for evacuating Grenfell Tower and in the readiness of the fire brigade, notwithstanding the individual heroism of the firefighters on the night.”
He went on to say: “As we look ahead to Phase 2 of the inquiry, lessons must be learnt about the choice of materials used to clad Grenfell Tower and the regulatory regime for high-rise buildings. As we said at the time of the fire, we urge all politicians to re-emphasise the need for effective health and safety regulation and competent fire risk management. These are fundamental to saving lives and sustaining our communities.
“Our thoughts must be with the families of the victims and the survivors of that tragedy. This detailed and important inquiry could not have taken place without their willingness to relive the horror of 14 June 2017. We can honour the victims’ memory by making sure that this tragedy can never happen again.”
The British Safety Council welcomes recommendations of the report relating to proactive fire door inspections, enhanced firefighting lift inspections and a significant increase in the provision of information to the fire enforcing authority.
James Lewis, Head of Audit and Consultancy at the British Safety Council, said: “In course of our extensive work with owners and managers of property, we have seen countless examples of failure to maintain fire safety standards at the required levels. All too often, we see fire doors left un-managed and damaged, a resistance from building owners and operators to communicate and cooperate with the fire enforcing authority, as well as failures to provide suitable and sufficient information to buildings’ occupiers.”
The British Safety Council welcomes the following recommendations from the executive summary of the report and calls for the government to consider their implementation:
- Section 6, A and B – Legal requirement for the provision of up-to-date plans to the local fire and rescue service and provision of premises information boxes,
- Section 7, A and B – Legal requirement for enhanced checks of firefighting lifts and provision of information to the local fire and rescue service,
- Section 12, D – Provision (for all existing and future buildings) for the local fire and rescue service to send an evacuation signal to all residents of high-rise buildings,
- Section 15, 33:28 – Legal requirement for owners and operators of every residential building to provide information and instruction to residents in a format that can be reasonably understood by all,
- Section 16, A and B – Urgent inspection of all fire doors of every residential building which contains separate dwellings, as well as a legal requirement to inspect fire doors on a quarterly basis.
Grenfell Tower inquiry
In the days that followed the tragedy, Prime Minister at time, Theresa May ordered a public inquiry into the devastating blaze. “Right now, people want answers. That’s why I am today ordering a full public inquiry into this disaster,” said the PM whilst visiting the scene. “We need to know what happened, we need to have an explanation of this. People deserve answers; the inquiry will give them.”
A criminal investigation was also opened to examine whether building regulations had been breached when the block was refurbished, while then-Communities Secretary Sajid Javid set up an Independent Expert Advisory Panel (IEAP) to report on what measures could be implemented to make buildings safer.
Mayor of London Sadiq Khan commented shortly after that the fire was a “preventable accident” caused by “years of neglect” by the local council and successive governments and demanded a “national response” to the tragedy.
In the phase one inquiry report, it said that the external walls of the tower failed to comply with building regulations. This area of the tower was the focal point of the refurbishment work in 2016.
Sir Martin Moore-Bick said that there was ‘compelling evidence’ that the walls did not “adequately resist the spread of fire”.
“On the contrary,” he added, “they actively promoted it.”
Grenfell Tower was built in 1974 and consisted of 120 flats and also included communal facilities. An £8.6-million refurbishment of the block took place in 2015/16 and the bottom four floors were extensively remodelled, adding nine additional homes.
Reports at the time suggested that residents of Grenfell had raised concerns about fire safety in the flats going back many years but they were ‘disregarded’. Rydon Construction, which carried out the refurbishment work, is reported to have said that it “met all required building control, fire regulation and health and safety standards.”
Following refurbishment work, completed in 2016, London Fire Brigade gave the tower block a ‘medium’ fire risk rating but the resident’s group continued to make claims about fire safety worries.
In February 20818, Campaign group Justice 4 Grenfell created three billboards which were placed on the back of trucks and paraded around London to illustrate the lack of progress since the tragedy.
Grenfell Tower fire cause
Since the tragedy, investigations into the cause and response to the fire have been ongoing.
The ongoing public inquiry, launched by its Chair Sir Martin Moore-Bick in August 2017, received hundreds of thousands of documents and hundreds of applications to be core participants. Oral evidence and findings from expert reports began to be heard in June 2018.
In May 2018, Dame Judith Hackitt, a former Chair of the HSE, delivered her final recommendations following her Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety for the Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG).
Hackitt concluded that indifference and ignorance had led to a “race to the bottom” in building safety practices and expressed the need for a “radical rethink of the whole system and how it works”. This included recommendations for recommends a “very clear model of risk ownership” and an “outcomes-based” regulatory framework, but did not recommend an explicit ban on combustible cladding.
Following the report’s publication, the government said it would consult on banning combustible cladding. Housing Secretary James Brokenshire added that ministers will also look to ban the use of desktop studies to assess the performance of external cladding systems based on the BS 8414 test.
The cladding used on housing is one of the primary focuses of scrutiny following the Grenfell fire. An estimated 800 high rise buildings across the country use similar cladding to that found in Grenfell Tower. A number of tests into cladding have resulted worrying results: Javid said in September that of 173 high-rise social housing blocks fitted with aluminium cladding, only 8 passed fire safety building regulations.
It was revealed in March that only seven of the 158 social housing blocks in England with dangerous cladding have had the material completely removed. The government announced in May that it will fund a £400-million operation to remove dangerous cladding from tower blocks owned by councils and housing associations.
Also under scrutiny was the standard advice to tenants of blocks of flats that they are safer if they stay in their accommodation than to leave, unless it is their flat which is on fire.
There is no general legal requirement for sprinkler systems to be installed in a place of work but there may be circumstances where sprinklers are required.
This guide provides an overview of the need-to-know information for sprinklers and covers:
- The legal requirements
- More information about sprinkler systems
- Key actions
- Key terms
- And more